HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 5 – Scapa Flow and the Italian Chapel

After a visit to the Tomb of the Eagles, we got another history lesson – this time from Andy as he was driving us to our next stop.

We heard about the history and the role that the Orkney islands played during WWI and WWII – the most significant being the body of water known as Scapa Flow.

Scapa Flow has been used since the Viking times – with 5 major Orcadian islands and several smaller ones sheltering its waters. Besides trade and travel, its protected waters made it ideal to anchor Viking longships and… much later on in history, as a base for the British Royal Navy during World War I and II.

In order to protect Scapa Flow from submarine attacks during WWI, blockships were strategically positioned at many of the entrances to Scapa Flow. There were also nets, artillery and minefields that further strengthened the defences.

Even now, you can still see some of the blockships lying at rest in the waters of Scapa Flow. We pulled over to a little beach, where we got to look out at some of these blockships.

This blockship, I believe, is the SS Reginald.

I believe this one below might be the steamer – Emerald Wings.

Another significant event that happened in Scapa Flow was the scuttling of the German High Seas fleet at the end of WWI. At the end of the war, this fleet of 74 German ships was sent to Orkney to await their fate, which was being decided at the Paris Peace Conference. Thinking that the fleet would be seized by the Allies, the Rear Admiral in charge set into motion plans to scuttle the entire fleet so it would not fall in enemy hands. On June 21, 1919, while most of the British ships and personnel were away on an exercise, the signal was given to scuttle the entire fleet. The British tried to stop the scuttle and successfully beached and saved some of the ships. But by the end of the day, it was reported that 52 of the ships had sunk.

Over the years, some of these ships were lifted from the seabed and salvaged while others lie in their final resting places under the water. The 7 wrecks that remain underwater, along with the various blockships in the Scapa Flow, are very popular with divers today.

Years later, Scapa Flow would again become a base for the British Navy during WWII. Unfortunately, the defences that were in place during the previous war were no longer sufficient in protecting the waters of Scapa Flow. On October 14th, 1939, a German U-boat managed to move into Scapa Flow undetected and fired its torpedoes at the HMS Royal Oak. The Royal Oak sank quickly, resulting in the loss of over 800 men. It is now a designated war grave, with no unauthorised diving allowed.

Following this incident, new defences – including new blockships and mines, were installed to protect the waters of Scapa Flow. Winston Churchill also ordered new permanent barriers to be built to protect Scapa Flow and the naval base there. Gabions and concrete blocks were used to build 4 causeways, helping to close off the channels leading into Scapa Flow. These barriers became known as the Churchill Barriers.

Concrete blocks of the causeways

After the war, these defences became a means of transportation, linking the islands around Scapa Flow. As we drove around the Orkney Islands on these causeways, we were able to appreciate the history behind them.

We drove across one of the causeways, also known as one of the Churchill Barriers, on the right side there.

Crossing another Churchill Barrier to our next destination…

The Churchill Barriers were constructed by Italian POW’s. Besides building these barriers, they also built a chapel – now known as the Italian Chapel. And this was our next destination.

The Italian Chapel is located on Lamb Holm. This chapel was built by and built for the Italian POW’s who were living on this island and constructing the Churchill Barriers.

The war memorial outside the Italian Chapel

The Italian POW’s wanted a place to worship and they were able to convince the camp commandant to grant their request. The chapel was built using very limited, often scavenged and recycled materials. But you would never guess – looking at its beautifully clean facade or the ornate frescoes inside.

The interior was mostly decorated by Domenico Chiocchetti. He was so dedicated that he stayed behind for 2 extra weeks to finish the chapel while the rest of the POW’s left Orkney. Nearly 20 years later, Chiocchetti returned to the Italian Chapel to assist with a restoration project. He write a letter to the people of Orkney upon his departure:

“The chapel is yours – for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality . . . I thank the authorities of Kirkwall, the courteous preservation committee, and all those who directly or indirectly have collaborated for the success of this work and for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lambholm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart”. – Domenico Chiocchetti, dated 11th April 1960.

There is a lot of meaning and symbolism in this building. The one that I’m most drawn to is the Madonna and Child, with the Child holding an olive branch. There is a sense of peace and reconciliation here.

When we visited, there was no cost to enter the Italian Chapel. Currently, there is a small fee to enter and they do advise that you book ahead. More information on opening hours and the entrance fee can be found here.

As we stepped out of the Chapel, we were greeted by more of that gorgeous Orcadian sunset.

We also spotted the cows coming home!

Coming home for dinner, it seems!

Driving away from the Italian Chapel, we headed towards Kirkwall. Look what we spotted from the road!

Those distinctive chimneys must mean one thing: a whisky distillery! The chimneys belong to the Highland Park distillery. (Because the bus was moving, I didn’t manage to snap a picture of the gate and sign.) Highland Park is the most northerly distillery in Scotland. Unfortunately we didn’t make a stop at the Highland Park distillery for a visit, but I think if I visit Orkney again, this will be on my list, for sure!

After a very full day of learning, adventures and exploring, we were on our way to our home for the next 2 nights – The Orcades Hostel.

This was definitely one of our favourite hostels on this entire trip. The rooms were clean and spacious with nice bunk beds. It was also a smaller room – sleeping only 6. Our room even had its own ensuite bathroom, with a hair dryer! Oh, those little luxuries! 😉

After freshening up, a group of us followed Andy as he led us to The Shore for spot of dinner at their pub.

And this is where we first came across… Thistly Cross Cider. A most delicious cider, of which we tried at least 3 varieties that night. Our favourites being the elderflower and the whisky cask.

To this day, we still scour our liquor stores, in the hopes that someone would have imported Thistly Cross into Canada by now. (Maybe that’s what we need to do – import it ourselves! Haha!) But alas, we are still waiting for that day to come. For more on our hunt for Thistly Cross Cider here on the westcoast of Canada, check out our next blog post!

After our dinner, music and some more cider, we decided to head back to the hostel for some sleep! Heading back to the hostel was a bit of an adventure… Firstly, it was pitch black, save a couple street lamps. Secondly, it was very windy. Thirdly, we had to cross a pond area (who knows how deep it was… I certainly wasn’t about to find out!) on some narrow footpaths, which didn’t seem nearly as daunting in the daylight. Oh and did I mention it was pitch black outside?? Eventually, with the dim light from our cell phones, we were able to safely navigate our way back to the hostel. 😥

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for Day 6 and more exploring around the Orkney islands!

From Vancouver with Love,
Ioana and Natalie

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 3 – The Isles Pub

For Foodie Friday we thought we’d share with you our first experience eating Haggis! And what’s more authentic than having your first go at it in its country of origin: Scotland!

In our last post, we had just left Northton Beach and were heading for our ferry in Tarbert, which would take us to Skye!

Once on Skye, we would be staying at the Portree Independent Hostel in Portree!

The hostel was clean, welcoming and had WIFI!!! We all had different rooms on different floors and there were plenty of washroom facilities to go around! This is always a bonus when staying in a hostel.

That night we decided to have dinner at the Isles Pub at the Isles Inn! Portree is not a very large town so it was easy enough for us to decide where to eat. And it was also recommended by Greg as a place to get a good plate of Haggis and enjoy some live music! The Isles Pub and Restaurant also uses locally sourced ingredients so we’d literally be getting an all around authentic Scottish meal!

The Isles Inn was just in the square close to our hostel so it was an easy walk over and easy walk back at the end of the night!

We had already decided what to eat even before we reached the restaurant. It’s important to note that they were quite busy when we got there. We were a group of 9, so we had to wait quite a while. But all was not lost, as we grabbed some drinks at the bar and had a nice chat about today’s adventures.

Since we both decided to get Haggis, the main difference would be that mine was traditional while Nat’s would be vegetarian!

Now, if you don’t know what Haggis is… then prepare to be enlightened. I am pretty sure it’s the type of food you either like or dislike.

“Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach though now often in an artificial casing instead.” – Wikipedia

Now if you aren’t turned off by the above description, you’ll be delighted to find out that it was actually quite delicious! It’s rather filling and it really does have a nutty texture. I don’t know if it’s something I’d like to eat very often, but when in Scotland, we may as well do as the Scots do!

This is what Nat’s Vegetarian Haggis looked like. 

We’re not sure what was exactly in this vegetarian haggis, but our guess would be perhaps lentils, vegetables, oats and various spices. This dish was served with neeps and tatties – that is mashed turnips and potatoes. The whole dish is finished off with a red wine and onion gravy to pull it all together. I’m so happy to be able to try a vegetarian option of this Scottish dish. The Isles Pub also had a couple of other vegetarian meal options to cater to those who do not eat meat. It can sometimes get complicated when looking for vegetarian food options on the road. But luckily for me, I found that most restaurants and pubs in Scotland, and Ireland, had vegetarian options – which saves me from eating egg salad sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner! 😥

We decided that we would definitely be having Haggis again.

After dinner, we thought we deserved to try something sweet and the dessert menu was calling to us <3.

Our table of 5 decided to share two desserts one of which we didn’t seem to take any pictures of, so we can’t quite recall it… BUT we did manage to take a picture of the Apple Pie with Drambruie. It was an interesting take on Apple Pie. I can’t say that it would go into our books as one of our favourite desserts, but it was worth a shot to try something new!

After our dinner, we decided to have a beer and listen to some of the live music they had playing! It wasn’t long until we started getting sleepy and decided to head back.

The next day would hold many adventures including the much anticipated Faerie Pools!

Stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Goodbye Dublin, Hello Edinburgh!

After an amazing time exploring Ireland on our All Ireland Rocker tour, we arrived back into Dublin in the late afternoon and said goodbye to our guide Gillian and our group mates.

Our next destination was Edinburgh. But we didn’t head for Edinburgh right away. We were advised not to book a connection out of Dublin too close to our estimated arrival time – just in case there were delays in getting back to Dublin. So we booked our flights through to Edinburgh for early the next morning at 6am.

Now we had a decision to make… book a hostel, sleep a couple of hours, wake everyone else in the room up at 4am and take the earliest bus to the airport to make our flight. Or… our other option was to hang around in Dublin that night, catch the last bus to the airport and stay the night at the airport. In the end, we decided to (save a couple bucks on accommodations and) spend the night at the airport.

Luckily for us, a couple of our group mates and new friends were staying in Dublin for a couple more days, so we decided to have one last dinner and night out in Dublin together!

While waiting for our friends to check into their hostels, Ioana and I wandered around Dublin for a little while, taking in the sights one last time before we left. It was also an opportunity to grab some last-minute souvenirs!

We all met up and headed to O’Neill’s Pub and Kitchen for dinner – a HUGE dinner, might I add!

Hard to see but O’Neill’s is the red building in the middle there! Right behind what I think is a construction zone sign… (which to me looks more like a hockey player, so the sign must mean “Hockey Game that way” =P)

We tried to have dinner here before we left for our Shamrocker tour, but it was totally packed that night and we couldn’t find a table. So we were glad we got to try O’Neill’s before we left Dublin. It was a little bit confusing figuring out how things worked at this pub, but in the end, we figured it out.

This pub is almost like a ‘cafeteria’ – you queue up, order your main and then your chosen sides are scooped onto your plate.  Some mains, such as carvery items, are already prepared and waiting for you under the hot lamps, while others items, like the Fish and Chips or sandwiches, are made to order. You grab your tray and pay for your food. Prices here are very reasonable, especially considering the portions you get! Definitely a good choice, if you are hungry after a day of walking and sightseeing!

Then came the task of finding a table, while balancing your heavy tray of food and your pint of Guinness, if you made a pit stop at the bar! We were lucky and scored a table on the second level by the bar. After a quick ‘Slainte’, we dug into our plates of food. I had the fish special that night, but my favourite thing on the plate had to be the sweet potato side dish! Ioana had something from the carvery – which might have been either the ham or the Irish Collar of Bacon. As hard as we tried, I don’t think any of us finished the entire meal that night!

After a filling dinner, we chatted and relived our tour and adventures over a couple of pints and enjoyed some Irish music and an Irish dancing performance! We even attempted to create the Claddagh ring design, which once we sobered up, we realized we had copied the design wrong! But all in all, we had a great time and it was an awesome last night in Dublin!

We tried!

After a round of goodbyes (and a see-you-soon to one of our friends who would be joining us on our Haggis Adventures tour!), Ioana and I wandered back to Temple Bar, enjoying the joviality one more time. We took the last bus out of Dublin and headed for the airport.

In hindsight, we probably should have gotten to the airport earlier. By the time we got there after midnight, much of the prime sleeping real estate (benches or couches) was already taken. We managed to snag two comfy armchairs but there really was nowhere to stretch out comfortably and – nowhere to charge our dying phones. (So far, my favourite airport for staying the night is still Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport – lots of seating, lots of comfy couches and electrical outlets!) We got a couple hours of (interrupted) sleep and then it was time to gather our things, check in and go through security.

We had what we assumed to be an uneventful flight to Edinburgh. We say this because neither of us remember any part of the flight since we fell asleep immediately after buckling our seatbelts!

After landing and picking up our luggage, we got our tickets for the Airlink service (airport to city centre express buses) and were on our way to Edinburgh’s city centre! We got off at Waverley Station and hiked our way up a WEE bit of a hill/mound to our hostel. Since we were there VERY early in the morning, our rooms weren’t ready yet. So we stowed our luggage in their luggage room and headed out to explore.

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We stayed at Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, although it would be broken down into 3 separate stays! It had a great location – just below Edinburgh Castle, just off the Royal Mile and just above Grassmarket! Close enough to everything, yet not teeming with people.

This was the view just outside the front door of the hostel – can’t beat that!!!

And here’s a view of Castle Rock Hostel from Edinburgh Castle. You can even catch a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat in the background!

The hostel had a mix of some really cool and interesting decor – from grand windows and curtains, richly decorated furniture to comfy couches, funky paintings, armour pieces… The hostel had a large self-catering kitchen, a couple of common rooms and even a “Groove Lounge” for guests to play music and jam together!

The rooms that we stayed in were clean and roomy, with plenty of space to store our backpack and luggage. The plus? Each bed had its own reading light and 2 outlets for charging our electronics =P! After this trip, we have found this to be pretty essential in any hostel room – so you don’t get 6 people all trying to charge their electronics out of 2 outlets!

Another bonus? One of the rooms we stayed in even had a view of the Edinburgh Castle! I sat up on my top bunk in the morning and this was what I saw out the window! Pretty awesome view to wake up to, if you ask me!

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Both Ioana and I had such high expectations for Edinburgh (and Scotland for that matter!) and we were scared of setting ourselves up for disappointment. But this city definitely did not disappoint! We loved the architecture, the buildings, the history, the stories, the views – we could go on and on!

Our first stop was Edinburgh Castle – stay tuned to our next post for more on our visit to this historic castle!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!